March 1, 2009

3/1/09 Happy Tsagaan Sar

The holiday really began for us on Tuesday morning. Everyone was supposed to work a half day but you could almost feel the giddy excitement had on the eve of the New Year. Soon after everyone got to work, we all gathered in the gompa. I had been working feverishly to get tsa-tsa's made for all the staff, 40 in all, plus a few special tsa-tsa's. As acting Director, Davaa presented each employee with a Buddha tsa-tsa. Sort of like a year-end-awards ceremony, I then presented special White Tara tsa-tsa's to Iveel, who we never see because she's busy cooking our wonderful meals every day, Dagir, who keeps the whole center spotless always working with a smile, and Munguu, who can hack through Mongolia's bureaucratic paperwork jungle like no one we know. And last but not least, Glenda and I presented Davaa with a Tara Wheel tsa-tsa and a Buddha panel tsa-tsa. Roy took more tsa-tsa's to be present to the staff at Dolma Ling and even more were made for those at the Golden Light Sutra Center in Darkhan.

Gold-painted Buddha tsa-tsa's

Presenting Iveel with a White Tara tsa-tsa

For Glenda, Roy and I, Tsagaan Sar was pretty peaceful. I'm glad I wasn't here alone. Tsagaan Sar is a huge family affair and if you are not part of a family, it can be quite isolating. Traditionally I gather that everyone visits the oldest relative in the family. On the second day, everyone visits the rest of the relatives. And on the third day, it's time to visit friends. Even though we were scheduled to work, it definitely didn't seem like that was going to happen.

In the morning, everyone gathered in the gompa again to make our own formal family Tsagaan Sar. We all sat around the tables full of food, in order of age. In a wonderful tradition of showing respect and thankfulness, the second oldest kneels in front of the oldest arms outstretched and rubs both checks (in leu of a kiss) wishing them a good year to follow. They sit down and then the third oldest greets the oldest, then the second oldest and then sits. This proceeds until the youngest, which happened to be Amaraa, greets everyone in turn starting with the oldest. Then we all sat around while Amaraa and Naraa served us hot Mongolian tea (milk, salk, and very little tea), then sweet rice, while we all chatted away.

What wonderful traditions Mongolia has

Everyone thought the whole New Year was a very auspicious one indeed. The weather was wonderful, by Mongolian standards, and crime had disappeared for the two days of Tsagaan Sar. Finally, as the oldest, Naraa gave gifts of money and chocolate to everyone present. I thought that was the end fo the celebrating until they said that everyone was getting ready to go to Tsetsgee's house. The center has a car but no one wanted to drive so they asked me to. Lucky for me traffic was light, although one car did try to side-swipe me. I guess I'm a good driver, or else everyone is used to evasive maneuvers because no one noticed. I couldn't even imagine how much trouble I would be in if we got a wreck or even just got stopped by the police. Not sure my Missouri Drivers License carries much weight here.

Remember that black cloud I was talking about last week. Well, there is a silver lining. I want to thank everyone publicly for your generosity in helping Tsetsgee's family. The money will help pay for repairs and for things lost in the fire. I can't thank you enough. What was even more amazing is that Ichka did everything he could to get the house repaired and ready for guests in the few days before Tsagaan Sar. It's that important to the coming year that nothing is left to chance.

We all piled into the living room where Ichka held court. It really was a fun time. As we all settled in, he proceeded to tell us more about the fire and the damage they had to repair. The fire started in the washing machine which was so destroyed, only the motor was left. The refrigerator was toast. The surprise was that even though the outside case of the TV was severely melted, the TV still worked. Ichka said that the living room where we sat was destroyed so you could see through the roof. He was almost casual about how black soot covered everything they owned in the rest of the house. Still, they got it fixed and I never felt more welcome in someone's home.

Ichka describing the fire

One thing that kids in America could learn was that throughout the whole celebration, Tsetsgee's children never stopped running back and forth bringing food, drink, and whatever else was needed for everyone's comfort and enjoyment. And they did it with smiles on their faces.

Glenda and I with Tsetsgee & Ichka's family

Lots of food was served and toasts were made. And again, the singing started. Everyone got a song started and then everyone helped them finish it. It was a wonderful feeling to be part of this family, both Tsetsgee and Ichka's, and the family from the center.

Duuriimaa sings her heart out

And last, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sent children's books to Mongolia. I know that postage wasn't cheap but we managed to collect over a hundred books for the children's programs at Dolma Ling here in Ulaanbaatar and also in Darkhan. And my thank you pales in comparison to that of the children themselves.